by Brian McIntyre
Over the next two weeks, Football Outsiders will take a look a division-by-division look at the salary cap situations of all 32 NFL teams. We'll look at estimated cap space -– since cap situations are fluid and actual adjusted cap figures for 2012 remain unknown –- restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents, which players are candidates for the franchise tag and which players are headed towards the chopping block.
We continue our trip around the NFL in the AFC North.
Estimated Cap Space: Around $10 million
Unrestricted Free Agents (13): Brendon Ayanbadejo, Matt Birk, Ben Grubbs, Andre Gurode, Jarret Johnson, Edgar Jones, Jameel McClain, Brandon McKinney, Haruki Nakamura, Cory Redding, Ray Rice, Kris Wilson, Tom Zbikowski
In his first season as a full-time starter, Lardarius Webb had five interceptions and 20 passes defensed. There's little chance of the Ravens letting the 2009 third-round go easily, so he'll receive an "upgraded tender" at either the second- ($1.927 million) or first-round ($2.742 million) level. Williams also completed his first season as a full-time starter and could receive an upgraded tender, as well.
Franchise Tag Candidate: Discussion on who the Ravens would use the franchise tag on begins and ends with Ray Rice, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage, ranked 13th in rushing DYAR, and was second among running backs in receiving DYAR. The franchise tender for running backs is projected to be worth around $8 million in 2012.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: The Ravens already got some cap relief with the retirement of running back Ricky Williams and will free up more with the expected releases of cornerback Domonique Foxworth and wide receiver Lee Evans, which will combine to clear $10.125 million in cap space. The Ravens could potentially open up more space with extensions for Ed Reed ($7.2 million base, $8.5 million cap number) and Joe Flacco, who will make $6.76 million in the final year of his rookie contract.
Estimated Cap Space: Around $60 million
Unrestricted Free Agents (20): Cedric Benson, Andre Caldwell, Anthony Collins, Jonathan Fanene, Kelly Jennings, Brandon Johnson, Adam Jones, Manny Lawson, Donald Lee, Nate Livings, Mike McGlynn, Reggie Nelson, Mike Nugent, Dennis Roland, Frostee Rucker, Bo Scaife, Jerome Simpson, Pat Sims, Bobbie Williams, Gibril Wilson
After ping-ponging around the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Houston Texans practice squads, Harris found a home in Cincinnati, where he's handled the snapping duties for the last 43 games. A multi-year extension might be less expensive than a tender in this case. For example, Carolina Panthers long-snapper J.J. Jansen's extension from earlier this month was worth $901,250 per year and $1.14 million in the first year –- less than a right of "first refusal/original round" tender that carries a $1.26 million base salary. Pressley started 10 of 15 games at fullback and Skuta is a contributor on special teams who has made a few spot starts. ROFR/original round tenders for Pressley and Skuta would not surprise.
Franchise Tag Candidates: Kicker Mike Nugent was 33-of-38 on field goal attempts in 2011, with four of his five misses coming during the month of December. The Ohio State alum turns 30 a few days before the deadline to use the franchise tag, which is projected to be worth around $2.6 million in base salary for kickers in 2012. Safety Reggie Nelson started all 16 games in his second season with the Bengals, picking up a pair of sacks to go along with his team-high four interceptions. The safety tender is projected to be worth about $6.2 million in 2012.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: Cap room is not an issue, but the team could free up $3.75 million in additional cap space to sign a few of their 20 unrestricted free agents to extensions by converting cornerback Leon Hall's $5 million roster bonus into a signing bonus and prorating that over the four remaining seasons on his contract.
Estimated Cap Space: Around $25 million
Restricted Free Agents (0): None
Franchise Tag Candidates: Last year, the Browns used the franchise tag on kicker Phil Dawson at a cost of $3.175 million in base salary. The new collective bargaining agreement has changed the calculation of the franchise tag, reducing the numbers across the board, but retained the "120 percent of the previous year's salary" component that would make a second franchise tag for the 37-year-old Dawson worth $3.81 million in 2012.
Had Peyton Hillis not followed up his breakout 2010 season with a forgettable and injury-plagued 2011, he could have been a legitimate option for the running back franchise tender that is projected to be worth around $8 million. That is a steep price to pay for a running back with one season of good production, though. Retaining inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson may be a higher priority. Jackson bounced back from a pair of injury-shortened seasons to lead the Browns with 158 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2011. Franchising Jackson would cost the Browns nearly $9 million in base salary.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: Left guard Eric Steinbach missed the 2011 season with a back injury and is due $6.6 million in total compensation that could be cleared from the cap if he were released. At the very least, the Browns will seek to reduce Steinbach's $8.3 million imprint on the cap. Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas signed a seven-year, $80.5 million contract extension last August that included a $10.5 million base salary and $11.9 million cap number in 2012. Thomas' base salary became fully guaranteed on February 9 and the Browns could possibly convert some of that into a signing bonus to reduce his 2012 cap number. Older veterans such as cornerback Sheldon Brown ($5.467 million cap number, $3.8 million in potential savings) and right tackle Tony Pashos ($3.95 million cap, $3.45 million cap savings) could be released or restructured to free up cap space.
Estimated Cap Space: Around $12 million over
Unrestricted Free Agents (11): Charlie Batch, Jerricho Cotchery, Dennis Dixon, Trai Essex, William Gay, Chris Hoke (retired), Byron Leftwich, Anthony Madison, Mewelde Moore, Daniel Sepulveda, Max Starks
Franchise Tag Candidate: One season after ranking first in receiving DYAR and DVOA, wide receiver Mike Wallace ranked fifth and eighth in those statistics in 2011. With the elimination of the "first- and third-round" tender in the new collective bargaining agreement, a team in need of a wide receiver could target Wallace if the cost is only a 2012 first round pick. It's worth noting that two teams in need of a deep threat at wide receiver are the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots, both of whom are armed with cap room and an additional first round pick, so the Steelers may have no choice but to construct a bigger fence around Wallace by placing the projected $9.5 million franchise tender on Wallace.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: The Steelers have already cleared around $18 million from the cap by restructuring the contracts of Ike Taylor, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons (Following these links to see the details of the Woodley and Timmons restructures). Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison both restructured their contracts to free up cap space last August. Doing so again could potentially free up another $8 million of cap space, which helps, but still won't get the Steelers far enough under the cap to be able to tender offers to their restricted free agents. Other restructure candidates include Troy Polamalu ($9.1375 million cap number), Casey Hampton ($8.057 million cap number in final year of his contract), offensive linemen Willie Colon ($5.7 million cap number) and Chris Kemoeatu ($5.262 million cap number), and Hines Ward. Ward is due $4 million in base salary and has a $4.61 million cap number in 2012. Outright releasing Ward would free up $3.39 million of cap space, but Ward is open to restructuring his contract and lowering his cap number. Pittsburgh would likely seek to reduce their cash commitment to Ward, so a reworked contract would certainly be incentive-laden.